Rio Lobo (1970)

Genres - Western  |   Sub-Genres - Traditional Western  |   Release Date - Dec 17, 1970 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 114 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - G
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Review by Bruce Eder

Rio Lobo is generally thought of as a poor relation to most of Howard Hawks' movies, and a disappointing final film from the director of His Girl Friday, Ball of Fire, Sergeant York, To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, and Red River, not to mention two very similar movies also starring John Wayne, Rio Bravo and El Dorado. The script, co-authored by longtime Hawks collaborator Leigh Brackett, has problems, to be sure: the Civil War-era introductory section is too long and sluggish, making the movie seem longer than its 114 minutes (and, indeed, making it drag in the exact spot where Rio Bravo and El Dorado moved very fast and gracefully); the introduction of Jennifer O'Neill's character is too abrupt; and the chemistry between John Wayne, Jorge Rivero, and Christopher Mitchum in their early scenes together falls flat elsewhere in the movie. On the other hand, it does have Jack Elam, who is so funny and threatening as the grizzled, wild-eyed rancher Mr. Phillips, that he pretty much steals every shot he is in; and Hawks, whatever his shortcomings in getting the best work out of his actors, does put his action scenes together extremely well. The shootout that follows O'Neill's introductory scene is as violent as anything seen in a John Wayne Western up to that time, and it isn't even the most violent sequence in the movie, though some of the subsequent scenes, such as the one in which Christopher Mitchum's character is beaten and Wayne is forced to stand by doing nothing, lest he reveal who he is, are unsettling. Some of Hawks' flair for overlapping dialogue is present, and, within the confines of her very limited acting ability at the time, O'Neill also just about manages to slip into the ranks of Hawks' fiercely independent leading ladies. The screenwriters, director, and cast also have some fun dealing with the subject of Wayne's aging prowess, physical and sexual, especially in contrast to the younger, more obviously virile Cordona (Jorge Rivero); much is made of the fact that O'Neill's Shasta Delaney regards Wayne's Cord McNally as "safe" and "comfortable," in contrast to the sexual threat that Cordona represents. It's a good concession to reality, and a far cry from Rio Bravo, made 11 years earlier, which showed a John Wayne who could still be a sexual icon and a convincing matchup with Angie Dickinson. There are also several good supporting performances to be seen in Rio Lobo, including David Huddleston as a helpful dentist and Bill Williams as a lawman friend of Wayne's character, and one can get a glimpse of Sherry Lansing in her final screen role, before she advanced to the ranks of top film executives.